This 'Knuckles' Shabbat Episode Features Idris Elba Praising Gefilte Fish – Kveller
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This ‘Knuckles’ Shabbat Episode Features Idris Elba Praising Gefilte Fish

The quirky episode of the "Sonic the Hedgehog" spinoff also features matzah ball soup, krav maga and a menorah.

L-R: Adam Pally as Wade Whipple, Stockard Channing as Wendy Whipple and Edi Patterson as Wanda Whipple in Knuckles, episode 3, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2024.

via Luke Varley/Paramount Pictures/Sega/Paramount+

Hearing Idris Elba talk about gefilte fish was not on my bingo card for this year. But it turns out it’s quite delightful to hear one of the hottest British actors of all times extoll a misunderstood Ashkenazi delicacy, even (especially?) if it’s him voicing a creature from outer space.

This unexpected delight happens in the live action “Knuckles” series, currently streaming on Paramount+, where Elba voices a CGI version Sonic the Hedgehog’s sidekick warrior, Knuckles the Echidna. The show is camp, ridiculously fun and steeped with ’90s nostalgia for the character that originated in a Sega video game, and takes place chronologically between the events of “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and the upcoming “Sonic the Hedgehog 3.”

In the series, Knuckles makes it to Earth, where he joins Wade Whipple, a local police sheriff played by Jewish actor and comedian Adam Pally, and trains him in his warrior ways on a mission to beat his estranged father in a bowling championship in Reno, Nevada. During their adventures, Wade becomes a fugitive, and in the third episode titled “The Shabbat Dinner,” the two take refuge in Wade’s childhood home in Boise, Idaho. Not a place with lots of Jews, but the Whipple family is Jewish (a very traditional Jewish name, as we all know).

There, Wade is reunited with his mom, Wendy, played by Stockard Channing, who for some unknown reason, calls Knuckles “Knuchles,” with a Hebrew chet. It’s kind of perplexing because no Jewish American person would ever want to make that throaty ch sound if they don’t really have to, but I will admit that Knuchles does sound kind of cute.

Also at the Whipple home? Wade’s sister and childhood enemy, Wanda Whipple, played by the incredible Edi Patterson. Patterson, who steals the show in Max’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” is funny in everything, and this is no exception. It is honestly worth watching the episode just for her.

Wendy is thrilled with the timing of Wade and Knuckles’ (or rather, Knuchles’) arrival — it’s Friday, and they’re just in time for Shabbat dinner. Wade balks at the idea, flashing back to fights in which Wanda shoves gefilte fish in his face and otherwise harasses him. Shabbat in the Whipple home, according to Wade, “has been nothing but deceit, betrayal and violence.”

Wendy disagrees. As they sit around a table laden with Ashkenazi delicacies, she tells Knuckles, “Shabbat is the day of rest. It’s about home. Every Friday, for three hours, the Whipple family sit there and eat together until the candles burn out.” The assortment of food on the table is truly overwhelming: There’s challah, gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, brisket, kugel and every typical Ashkenazi fare. Wade, who has on a bowling print kippah, praises his mother for making all his favorites, even the obscure holiday foods, and says, “Everything looks so brown.” (Truly, a rude way to describe Ashkenazi food! Take that back, Wade!)

Since Wanda is busy on the phone with her work for the FBI, Wendy lights the candles herself, saying the blessings pretty flawlessly (she doesn’t say the blessing over the wine or Hamotzi, the blessing over the bread, but I guess we can forgive that).

“My people were killed by a race of giant owls, I am now the last of my tribe,” Knuckles tells Wendy as part of casual dinner time banter, to which she responds with, “Our tribe has been through some tough times two, minus the owls.” She then tells Wade that “Knuchles” is practically a Jew.

Like a good guest, Knuckles then praises the food. “I’ve never seen a ball so plump and swollen with flavor,” he says about the matzah balls (I guess ball jokes need to be made, sigh) and then about the gefilte fish he shares, “You say this is fish yet it has the consistency of a wet sponge. I cannot stop eating this.” Wendy accurately responds, “Gefilte fish, it’s one of our planet’s great mysteries.” One of our planet’s delicious mysteries, I say, but I know I’m not the majority opinion. Still, it’s nice to have Idris Elba on my side.

Wade and Wanda soon start fighting, and Wendy is sick of their antics.

“Do not make me use krav maga in my own home!” Wendy threatens them.

“What is this krav maga?” Knuckles asks.

“Israeli self-defense, pretty hardcore stuff,” Wade explains, and Knuckles is impressed at finding a fellow warrior trainer.

“You can’t threaten us with your Jewish karate chops because I am a federal agent,” Wendy fumes, and then stabs Wade with a fork, which is a little too extra for all at the table. In very stereotypical Jewish mom fashion, Wendy wonders: “What did I do to deserve this? How many years of Shabbat alone? Now both my children are finally home and this is what I get.”

As Wade leaves the room, Wendy yells at him, “Just go leave me here, alone, just like everyone, just like that good-for-nothing schmuck,” referring to his father.

Wade then takes comfort in his room, filled with lots of ’90s nostalgia, like “Big Lebowski” and “Ren and Stimpy” posters, Ninja Turtles bedsheets, a discman with a Blink-182 song playing on it and more. It is in the room that Wade says what is arguably his most Jewish line of all — lying in bed feeling sad and abandoned, he tells Knuckles, “I’m just curled up in the fetal position. My mental health has never been better.”

Knuckles winds up chatting with Wendy while watching “Pretty Woman” with her on the couch and eating Key Lime pie (or “pies of lime that are key” as Knuckles calls them). He asks her if that is a Jewish tradition, but she says it’s a Whipple family tradition, to sit together and watch a movie until the candles go out. Knuckles then tells her about how he once was lost in the desert for 13 days as part of a great battle, and she tells him the Jewish people were lost in the desert for 40 years while trying to get to Israel, so his story is not so impressive, after all.

As everyone winds down for the night, a group of violent bounty hunters come down to capture Wade, but Knuckles and Wendy fight them off while “Hava Nagila” plays, naturally. Wade hits one hunter over the head with a lug nut DIY menorah, that for some reason has all the candles in it, while yelling “Shabbat shalom!” but that particular self-defense move doesn’t get him very far.

As they stand over the destroyed home and knocked-out bounty hunters, Wendy smiles. “My kids finally came home for Shabbat. The whole family came together, to protect one another, to care for one another. What more could a mother want?” She adds joyfully, “Thank you Knuchles, this is the best damn Shabbat dinner we’ve ever had.” Then she and Wade wish each other a “gut Shabbos,” a happy Shabbat in Yiddish, as the candles go out.

Is this episode of “Knuckles” good Jewish representation? Well, it does have a pretty stereotypical Jewish mom, but she’s also kind of a badass. That Shabbat spread is honestly perplexing, but we do need more positive gefilte fish rep. The casting isn’t authentic, except for Pally, who is really delightful in this and truly everything, but also Channing and Patterson are brilliant so we can forgive that. The menorah and the “Hava Nagila” kind of hit you over the head with too much stereotypical Jewishness, but also fighting with a menorah is kind of amazing.

All in all, I think “Knuckles” offers delightfully camp and unexpected Jewish representation, and worth watching if only for its excellently funny cast, and for the Michael Bolton songs (yes, there are Michael Bolton songs). And while we’ve gotten some great Shabbat episodes lately, including a perfect “Sesame Street” one, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more quirky and out-of-this-world Shabbat than this Whipple family gathering in Idaho.

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